Paul Krugman kinda sounds like many commenters on this here blog on the topic of transformational rhetoric vs realpolitik in today’s NYT column. Like all Krugman columns, it’s worth reading in full, but here’s excerpt:
[O]n the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders…
But as Mr. Obama himself found out as soon as he took office, transformational rhetoric isn’t how change happens. That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since L.B.J….
Yet his achievements have depended at every stage on accepting half loaves as being better than none: health reform that leaves the system largely private, financial reform that seriously restricts Wall Street’s abuses without fully breaking its power, higher taxes on the rich but no full-scale assault on inequality.
There’s a sort of mini-dispute among Democrats over who can claim to be Mr. Obama’s true heir — Mr. Sanders or Mrs. Clinton? But the answer is obvious: Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama. (In fact, the health reform we got was basically her proposal, not his.)
Krugman closes by reminding readers not to “let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence,” which is sound advice. But I’m not sure his assessment is fair to former candidate Obama or current candidate Sanders, both senators and intelligent men who surely have/had some inkling of what they would face when trying to implement their agendas as president.
Maybe it’s more about what’s appropriate for the times. A couple of days ago in the “Town Hall” thread, valued commenter MomSense posited a theory of why a transformational campaign might be wrong for this particular election:
Part of the problem for Sanders this election is that this year isn’t a change election on the Dems side. The polls say 80-87% of Dems depending on demographics approve of the job the president is doing and think we are going in the right direction… It’s the flip side of the problem Clinton had in 2008… Her 2008 election was far too status quo than the mood of the Democratic base. 2016 is a guard the change and expand on reform election for the Democratic base. I just don’t think there is an appetite among the Democratic base to risk what we’ve gained on unrealistic promises of revolution.
The part about “change” vs. “guard-the-change” elections sounds about right to me. It’s not that Sanders is wrong to be aspirational about addressing wealth inequality, etc., now — even with the knowledge that Republicans will obstruct him at every turn — any more than it was wrong for then-candidate Obama to run on breaking down partisan divides and then paring down his goals and adjusting his strategy to accommodate GOP recalcitrance when he became president. But it may be that there’s too little demand for a revolution right now, at least among Democrats. We’ll see.
ETA: There’s a site maintenance thread downstairs to report bugs and comments about the design update.